Category Archives: Letters from Armorica

Letters from Armorica- Greed and Generosity (20 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have slept little this past week, and burned vast quantities (it seems) of whirtleberry oil; and I scarcely finished my first mug of ale at the hot springs this afternoon before my eyes began to droop. The other men teased me, of course, and told me that one day perhaps I'd grow up and be able to hold my liquor. I am fortunate that it has been a peaceful week in Bois-de-Bas and that there were no serious disputes or concerns for me to address.

A site has been picked for the new Town Hall, the women of the town having been much in favor. From what Amelie tells me, that was due to the prospect of regular town dances than it was to the plight of the young unmarried men who have been coming to live here; but no matter. The women of Bois-de-Bas have spoken and driven their husbands before them. There was consequently much good-natured wailing and gnashing of teeth at the hot springs today, for the chosen site must be cleared of bronzewood trees; but the site is convenient to both the town square and to the entrance to the hot springs, and will, I think, do very well.

But as the result of my late nights I have been making great progress with Master Grenadine's Sur la Thaumaturgie. His terminology remains peculiar, but I am slowly coming to understand it, with many false steps. For example, he writes of objects that exhibit charité and those, opposed to the first, that exhibit envie. I at first guessed that by charité he meant something like the ability of a hardened plate to provide effort to another formed object, and that by envie he meant the ability of something like a warming block to want to pull effort from something else that has what it lacks. His notion of harmonie, then, would be the balance of charity against envy such that the envious object would pull no more effort from the charitable object than it was able to safely provide.

This was plausible but wrong. I spent most of the week under this impression, growing more and more confused, until I realized that I had it precisely backwards…or, perhaps, a bit sideways. To Grenadine, an object exhibits charité if it changes things in the world. A warming block gives off heat; a lifting block in a sky-chair raises it into the air. An object exhibits envie if its effect is in itself. A hardened plate accepts knocks and bangs. Harmonie, he says, lies in placing envious and charitable objects in proxity.

He then goes on to discuss various kinds of formed objects and whether they exhibit charity or envy, and then moves along to speculate as to whether we might some day discover a kind of forming that achieves la perfection: an object that achieves harmony in and of itself.

It is an interesting question, and I would greatly like to discuss it with another master former of greater experience. But Grenadine comes to no conclusions and so the idea isn't of much help in my current endeavors. And there is worse: he seems to have no notion of what I call effort, nor any thought to measurement. He speaks of harmonie, but he has no notion of balance. I fear that even in my limited efforts I have already exceeded him.

Perhaps, of course, he is wiser than I: perhaps my idea of effort flowing from hardened plates to warming blocks is incorrect. Perhaps it is possible to achieve harmonie without worrying about balance. But if I am right then his terminology is not only obscure but also unhelpful.

As I see it, a hardened plate or pot is a collector of effort; and it is generous to the extent that it will provide that effort to other things in its vicinity. A warming block is a consumer of effort; I conjecture that it has what I might call an appetite for effort in proportion to the degree of warming that it provides. Moreover, it is greedy: it will consume effort from a nearby plate until the plate falls apart. (One might say that the plate is generous to a fault.)

And this of course leads me to so many more questions! How much effort can a given collector collect before it gets "full"? Is there a limit? How fast can it provide effort to a consumer? Are there consumers that aren't greedy? Can a collector be protected against a consumer's greediness? And though I have come to believe that these things can be measured, by what means am I to do so?

Measurement is where it all begins. If I can measure, I can begin to address these questions. Either there will be some kind of proportion between effort provided and effort consumed, or there will not.

I suppose I must send to M. Fournier for a book on mathematics. Which will, be in Provençese, blast it.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Goats and Harmony (13 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The advantage of having a nanny goat, it seems, is that you get goat milk. And when you have a small child, goat milk is a thing to be desired. Cow's milk would be preferred but goats take up less room than cows, which is important when you live in the middle of the village.

Except that to get goat milk your nanny goat needs to have a baby goat. And for your nanny goat to have a baby goat, it goes without saying, you need a billy goat. All of this is quite ordinary and not worth mentioning, or at least it would be back home in the sorts of places where you might keep goats. But in Wussex or Walshire they would be Cambrian goats. Here we are talking about having three Armorican goats, and three Armorican goats is too many goats for any sane person to be having. Especially in the middle of the village.

Which is why I spent yesterday walking Patches the Goat out to Marc's farm for a stay, and why today I lingered in the hot springs. Goat armor and handles make it easier to manage an Armorican goat, but they don't make it pleasant. It might be better if Patches wasn't (to all appearances) fond of me, but—

No. No, it wouldn't. If Patches weren't fond of me I'd have hired a cart, tied her to the back of it, and ridden up front with the drover. I would most likely have had to pay for damage to the cart, but at least I wouldn't be found crumpled in the ditch by the side of the road.

I spent most of the walk pondering how I might transport Patches by sky-chair. I was contemplating a kind of a sling by which she might dangle, with a release so that I could fly her straight to the goat shed, lower her down, and let her go without actually entering the goat shed myself. It was a foolish notion, for I do not dare use a sky-chair until I understand the motions of what I call effort ; and doubly foolish, for of course Marc's goatherd took care of Patches once we arrived. But it served to pass the time.

Having disposed of Patches I went to check on Luc's trial in its little shed at the outer edge of Marc's fields. It looked much the same as it had the week before, when Luc set it up in its new location: the hardened block resting on its post, and the other block floating above its post at the end of a taut string. I examined the hardened block as gently as I could, looking for the sort of degradation I'd seen in Amelie's dishware, taking care not to poke at it too strongly; for treating it harshly would, ironically, only increase its life. It was the hardened plates and bowls that deteriorated, not the hardened pots and pans.

Thus far the block looked as it had the week before; but we hadn't expected anything else, yet.

After that I shared the midday meal with Marc and Elise, and got to see their infant boy, whom they have predictably named Herbert. I believe that Elise and Amelie are already planning a wedding for Herbert and Anne-Marie. I should be pleased if that were to happen, but I know a little too much about forcing a boy into his father's image to press it myself.

I walked home, blessedly goat free, and thought about Luc's trial. So many questions! So many trials we would like to do! Hardened objects store effort and flying or warming objects consume it. Does it matter whether the consuming object is floating or producing warmth? Can the consuming object continue producing its effect indefinitely, or must there be a hardened object nearby? Are there other kinds of objects that similarly store effort like hardened ones do? Suppose I hardened a stick, and suspended a heavy weight from it, a weight that would break an unhardened stick: would that produce effort? And how much effort could I draw from the stick without causing it to deteriorate?

"How much?" What an odd thought! "How much?" is a question for shopkeepers and merchants and contracts. A thing is hardened or it isn't; a former doesn't worry about "how much" a thing is hardened. And yet it seems like le mot juste as my friend the bookseller would say. How much effort can a hardened object store and provide? How much effort does it take to produce enough heat to warm a plate of food? If those two things were evenly matched, if they were in balance—

Les chèvres! Master Grenadine speaks of harmonie, of charité and envie. Charity: giving forth. Envy: wanting what another has. Harmony between charity and envy—is that the key to understanding him? Thank the Lord that we received a new stock of whirtleberry oil yesterday, for I believe I shall be up late tonight.

Next letter

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Letters from Armoria- Of Taverns and Town Halls (6 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is a singular thing, but there are no inns in Bois-de-Bas—no place where folks might go of an evening to gather. People gather on Sundays, at the church and in fine weather have Sunday dinner together in the square, and at the hot springs. A few old men often gather at my shop on weekday afternoons. But for the most part, the citizens of Bois-de-Bas do not gather in the evening; or if they do they gather at each other's homes. As I noted last winter, we do not even have a town hall—unless one considers the hot springs to be the de facto town hall, as I think one must.

Jean-Claude Astreaux tells me—he is one of Jacques-le-Souri's cronies, and a frequent visitor to my shop—he tells me that it is because of les grand-blaireau and similar creatures. "You forget, you, that this was wilderness not so many years ago. Those who went out at night are no longer with us, n'est-ce pas?" And then, the folk of Bois-de-Bas are sober and hard-working, and not much given to frivolity.

But we still have many young men with us and who have no place to go in the evenings except their rooming houses. Many came during the war, and many have come since; Bois-de-Bas has acquired a reputation. Those of them who wish to settle here—the majority—are still resentful about being excluded from the hot springs on a Sunday. They may go on their own during the week, or on Saturdays, but not at the time when decisions are made. Some few have left in frustration; some few have worked their way into one family or another, much as I did. But there are many others, and a few more arrive every month. As I see it we must make them part of the town or there will eventually be hell to pay. We need a town hall when we can all gather together to make decisions.

I spoke of this to the men of Bois-de-Bas—most of the men of Bois-de-Bas—at the hot springs this afternoon. I was able to get agreement about the town hall; the problem was clear enough last winter, for all love, but you can't build a great huge barn in deep snow. And that's really all we need, nothing fancy: just a space big enough for everyone to meet together in bad weather.

"And then, once we have it," I went on, "we might use it for the occasional dance or celebration. I know we are in the habit here of spending our evenings at home—but, you know, no one has seen a grand-blaireau in this region for many, many years. Well, except for the beast we found on the island during the War, and as his pelt is now on my bed I think we needn't worry about him."

There was a bit of muttering at this, for folks here tend to socialize in certain set groups. I would not have been accepted the way I was if it weren't for my friendship with Marc and Elise Frontenac and my marriage to Amelie, aided by my willingness to work with goats without complaining and my activities during the war. Which is another reason why the hot springs are so important, of course—it's the one place that all of the men and women of the town have traditionally met as equals.

But I think having public dances and celebrations are necessary to the future of our town. The newly-arriving men must meet people; especially they must meet young women, so that they can marry and settle down. This is what most of them are seeking, after all, and yet there is so little opportunity for it today. The only ones who have married so far are those who have met an eligible daughter in the course of their work. I did not mention this concern to the men at the springs, however.

The women must agree with the building of the town hall, of course, but Amelie and Elise Frontenac attended to that this afternoon. Now the husbands and wives must confer, and likely there will be further discussion of details this coming Sunday; but I rather expect that a site will be chosen and the building will be erected in proper barn-raising fashion in the next few weeks.

Now if only we had an inn or tavern as well.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Learning from Luc (30 May 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Luc, I discover, has been busy while I was away in Mont-Havre. He—

But all things in due course.

When I left for Mont-Havre I instructed Luc to continue copying out my grimoire, which I left behind for that purpose. Amelie, I have discovered, is an excellent teacher; Luc's hand is better than mine ever was, or at least no worse. And as of this week, I can say with confidence that he is understanding much of what he copies.

I cannot say the same for myself and Master Grenadine's Sur la Thaumaturgie. In part it is a matter of language—my Provençese has improved greatly since I came to Armorica but I am constantly having to turn to Frobert's Dictionnaire de Provençese; and since the definitions are also in Provençese a single word can turn into quite the research project. Yes, dear journal, I could simply ask my Amelie; but Master Grenadine affects a high and lofty style, and uses many words that are not in common use in Bois-de-Bas.

But beyond that, Master Grenadine is speaking of arcane matters of forming, at a level of theory that perhaps no other former has reached, and so he is perforce having to invent a terminology in which to describe his thoughts. This is common in every field of endeavor, I suppose; I learned on Onc' Herbert's farm that there is a word for every part of a wagon, or a cow, or what have you. Or of a goat, I suppose, if anyone were willing to get close enough to discover all of them.

But Master Grenadine never stops to define his terms; and worse, Master Grenadine fancies himself a poet. I do not know if it was simply his way, or if obscurity was his goal. But it is no help, and so I have been reduced to listing the words that appear to be terms of art, and then reading along willy-nilly until I find something that appears to match my experience. (Alas, Master Grenadine's experience far exceeds my own.)

For example, I am nearly certain—but only nearly, I say—that by bombastication de tortue he means what I would call "hardening"; for a tortue is what I would call a tortoise, and of course tortoises have hard shells. But what does he mean by protestations d'envie, protestations of envy? Or oeuvres de la charité, works of charity? "Il est tres difficile," as Amelie would say.

But I was speaking of Luc. I was looking for him on Thursday and could not find him—an inappropriate condition for an apprentice—until I spotted him coming down the road toward the shop. He was dusty, and had one of the small ledgers he uses for writing practice in his hand. I waited for him on the porch. To do him credit he made no attempt to sneak around the back when he saw me, though he gave a heavy sigh.

"Maître," he said, and waited.

"And where have you been, Luc?"

"At the Frontenac's farm, Maître."

"At the Frontenac's—but why? What business could possibly take you there?" Luc was acquainted with Marc and Elise Frontenac, of course, and had occasionally run errands there for us, but not in this case, for Amelie had been equally ignorant of his location.

He squirmed. "I have been…"

"Yes?"

He looked up at me. He looked sheepish, but also…excited?

"May I show you, Maître?"

"At the Frontenac's?"

"Oui, Maître."

"Very well, but in the morning. It is too late today. Now, go and feed Patches."

Friday morning we set out for Marc's farm. Marc met us in the farmyard.

"Come to check on young Luc's doings, eh? I gave him some space out behind the goat shed."

I simply nodded, not wanting to shame Luc in front of Marc by saying that he had gone behind my back.

Behind the sheds I found two posts hammered into the ground about three feet apart. A small block of wood topped one of them, and another small block of wood was levitating directly above the other, held in place by a few inches of cord. I fingered the cord; it was tight as a bowstring.

"It has been like that for two weeks," said Marc.

"Luc—," I began, then stopped. "Marc, I apologize for my rudeness, but I must speak with my apprentice in private."

Marc grinned. "Elise will have refreshments when you are done," he said.

After he had gone, I inspected the first block, the one sitting atop its post. It had been hardened—not uniformly, but quite well for a first try.

"Luc," I said.

"Oui, Maître?"

"Have I given you leave to attempt to form anything without my supervision?"

"Non, Maître."

"Very well. So explain to me what you thought you were doing."

Journal, I was flabbergasted by the answer. Luc had been thinking about the hardened dishes and the warming blocks, and why they affected each other so, and had added a couple of questions of his own: "How soon?", and also, "How much?" And rather than merely pondering, as I have been doing, he decided to make a "trial" of it.

"The blocks each weigh four ounces, Maître, and they are exactly three feet apart. I am checking every few days to see when the hardened block begins to get soft." He showed me the ledger. He had written down these facts, and also the date at which he had begun his trial and the dates on which he had checked on it. He had begun the day after I went to Mont-Havre.

"I see. And why here? Why not in our workshop?"

"But there are so many sets of hardened dishes in the village, Maître."

"And you didn't want to risk damaging them?"

He looked surprised. "O! I had not thought of that, Maître. But having them near would have made things different. So I came out here, where there are no formed items nearby."

"I see. But you're mistaken, I'm afraid. Do you know what's in that shed?"

"Goats, Maître."

"And what are goats wearing, Luc?"

"Why, they are wearing—they are wearing hardened coats, like Patches." His face fell.

"Yes, and horn protectors. And so?"

"My trial is ruined, Maître."

"Yes, it is. And you ought not to have started it without informing me."

"O, but Maître! It was to be a surprise for you!"

"It has certainly been that. Now, for your punishment, I have a task for you. It is going to involve quite a lot of walking, I'm afraid."

His shoulders drooped. "Oui, Maître."

"First, you must speak to M. Frontenac, and find a place for your posts at the far end of his fields, well away from the goats. It will be necessary to construct a small shed to house them, so they stay dry. Second, we must prepare the blocks of wood together. And third, you must check on them every other day."

"Oui, Maître! I shall!"

I took the hardened block from its post and handed it to him. "This you may keep; it will do no harm in our workshop." Then I glanced at the levitating block. "Why levitation? Why not a warming block?"

He looked puzzled. "Levitation is more fun, Maître."

And you know, Dear Journal, he is not wrong.

Next letter

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photo credit: Edna Winti There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Town Matters- (23 May 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is ironic, I suppose. I spent the wagon ride to Bois-de-Bas alternately pondering how best to study Master Grenadine's writings and wishing for a peaceful soak in the hot springs—for I may say that while traveling by wagon is much quicker than walking, it has its own discomforts.

But I have been bogged down in town matters since my return. Mme. Golombaque, it seems, has been stealing flowers for her table from the garden of Mme. Poquerie. M. Alemagne's dog has been terrorizing chickens at local farms. My goat, Patches, has…but I do not want to think of my goat, Patches. I am simply grateful that Patches did not take it into her knobby head to join me in Mont-Havre, or I should be getting complaints from Honfleur or even Petit-Monde as well.

It seems that no one in Bois-de-Bas can settle any dispute without my aid.

I did get my soak this afternoon, of course, but no peace, for the town matters joined me there. I am increasingly attracted to the notion of moving my family to Mont-Havre. There, at least, I could continue my studies in peace! I said something of this to my Amelie just now.

"Oui," she said. "In great peace, between visits from the servants of le Grand Parlement and those of Lord Doncaster, and visits to the tailor for les vêtements de cérémonie, and invitations from tout le Monde, n'est-ce pas? For you are the Grandmaster, and there you must play le Grand Homme."

I believe I shuddered. I saw the beginnings of that dance myself at my meal with M. Archambault—and I have been familiar with the body of it from boyhood.

"Mais non," she said decisively, and kissed me on the cheek. "You will stay here, where you truly are le Grand Homme."

Ah, well. There will doubtless be further matters to settle tomorrow, and then perhaps I shall be able to settle down to my reading. I will take some time! Master Grenadine's grimoire is neatly written (at least in the earlier pages) but poorly organized, as grimoires generally are; and his Sur la Thaumaturgie has proven to be entirely opaque to me so far. I understand the words, but they seem to have no relation to anything in my experience as a former. But it is a book of reflections; and perhaps it will grow more concrete as I proceed.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- The Political Question (20 May 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

This is goodbye for now, for I must soon go meet M. Frontenac's wagoneer for the ride back to Bois-de-Bas. But I could not leave the city without telling you some of what has been happening, and some of what I've learned.

First, the Guild Hall is in excellent condition, far better than I could reasonably have expected, and now that it has been cleaned it wants only a few items of furniture and a goodly supply of food and new linens to be livable. I have not yet procured these things—I am not sure when I shall return, and I do not wish to encourage the mice. However, I did have M. D'Aubigny change the locks so that I shall be to enter without his help on my next visit.

I was sitting in the main room of the Guild Hall yesterday, pondering Master Grenadine's grimoire while a workman patched a mouse hole or two—I wonder, is there something I could form that would repel mice?—when to my surprise a boy in livery came to the door. It is a thing I have not seen since I left Cumbria! To be sure, there are a few servants in Mont-Havre, in the wealthier houses; but according to M. Suprenant they are generally younger sons and daughters who take a position for a few years to earn some money before heading out to build a new life in the provinces. And even these wear no livery; in thrifty Armorica, who would waste money on such things?

And yet here was a young lad in livery. He saluted me, handed me an envelope, and stood, waiting expectantly. I handed him a coin, which he took quickly enough, but said, "I am to wait for a response, monsieur."

I could see at a glance that his attire was quite new: a tight-fitting blue jacket and trousers, a white shirt and stockings, all topped off with a small blue cap. He had an emblem pinned to his cap and a matching bit of embroidery on the front of his jacket.

"That is quite an outfit," I said.

He regarded me proudly. "It is because I am in service to le Grand Parlement, monsieur!"

"And this is a new thing?"

"O, non, monsieur. I have been running messages for le Grand Parlement for many months."

"And yet I have not seen your uniform before."

He laughed. "O, that is quite new, c'est vrai They say it is because of Lord Doncaster. He dresses up his servants quite fine, and le Grand Parlement will not be outdone."

And so it begins. I am not sure what I think about it.

The message proved to be from a M. Archambault, a member of le Grand Parlement, asking me to dine with him that evening.

I will not weary you with a detailed narrative of the meal. M. Archambault is a tedious gentleman of the sort I am all too familiar with from my father's table in Yorke. He wished to meet with me in his role as representative of le Grand Parlement, and he used a great many words to inquire out what my plans were for the Guild and to whom I am loyal. I used a great many more words, loathing myself the while for speaking my father's kind of language, to say that I am loyal to my family in Bois-de-Bas, that I planned to continue my work in a quiet way, and that it would be a long time before the Guild had a regular presence in Mont-Havre.

"So you are not here as a representative of Cumbria?" he asked in so many more words.

"Hardly," I said. "Armorica is my home."

He did not ask me whether or not it was my intent to play politics; he can hardly think otherwise given the example of the guilds in Yorke and Toulouse, and his own proclivities.

I suppose it was inevitable that Archambault and his ilk would take notice of my presence here, but I mislike it, Jack. I mislike it.

Your cousin,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Inside the Guild Hall (16 May 35 AF)

First Letter

Ma chere Amelie,

I have such news! So much news, that I fear I might burst from it.

Yesterday, I must confess, I was disappointed. I met M. Suprenant's locksmith, a rotund fellow who rejoices in the name of Bertrand D'Aubigny, in front of the guild house at the appointed hour, and there waited while he effected an entry. It took him some little time, for as he told me, the lock was of an old and difficult style, and one rarely seen in Mont-Havre for it had been brought from Provençe.

"It is the sort of lock you might find on the front door of a bank in Toulouse, I think, M. Tuppenny. They wanted no one to get in, and I am sure no one has!"

But in time he succeeded, and beaming with pleasure threw the door wide that I might enter. I left him installing a new lock, and passed within.

There is good news and there is bad, cherie. The good news is that the guild hall is stoutly built of bronzewood, in and out, with bronzewood shingles on the roof. It looks rustic now, but it must have been the costliest building in Mont-Havre at the time it was built—or would have been, if they had contracted out all of the work. Bronzewood shingles, for sooth! But I must believe that the guild members formed at least the shingles themselves, and quite possibly many of the other members, for for bronzewood, though tough, sturdy, and durable, is notoriously difficult to shape. Even here in Mont-Havre it is generally used only for timbers.

As a result, I am pleased to say, there have been no leaks. The roof is sound; and the unnamed journeyman who returned to Toulouse took the time to shut the place up properly, closing and latching all of the stout bronzewood shutters, so that even the window glass has been preserved.

It is not large—for a guild hall in Yorke, or, I imagine, in Toulouse. But it is much larger than the few who built it were in need of; perhaps the Guild was expecting to build a respectable community of formers here in Mont-Havre, and moreover planned to provide at least some of them with living space. No one lives in the Guild Hall in Yorke, though there are a few rooms for visiting formers; but this structure includes three small apartments, along with a meeting hall and communal kitchen on the ground floor. It is plain, mind you—beyond the extravagance of bronzewood paneling, there is no decoration, no marble, no carving. But I think we could be quite comfortable here, should we ever elect to visit or dwell in Mont-Havre as a family; and at the very least it will give me a place to stay when I visit on my own.

The bad news—O, the bad news! Yes, the weather has been kept out. But the dust! And the mice, what remains of them. The survivor who returned to Provençe left everything here but his own personal effects; there are the remains of clothing in one of the apartments, as well as the remains of bedding and other linens, much chewed by small teeth and formed into nests. At least there are no living mice, that I can see; I suppose they abandoned the place when the food left in the pantry was all gone or spoiled beyond even their interest. It can be cleaned, of course, but I believe I shall have to find a cat.

And then there is the worst news. I looked for some kind of library of books on thaumaturgie—without much hope, mind you, for formers are secretive by nature, and certainly there is no such library at the hall in Yorke. But I thought I might at least find the grimoire of one of the deceased formers, abandoned when the hall was closed up. I had no such luck, at least during my cursory inspection. But of course the journeyman would naturally take his master's grimoire with him, at least if he had any sense.

By this time the locksmith had replaced the locks on the front and back doors of the hall; I paid him his fee, he gave me the keys, and we saluted one another. Then I locked it up and went to arrange for a man known to M. Suprenant to come and clean the place out.

I dined with M. Suprenant and his family that evening, and heard many stories of the early days of Mont-Havre that I will share with you when I return home; this morning I unlocked the Guild Hall for M. Armagnac and his workmen; and then at noon I dined with Cousin Jack. We talked of many things, as you can imagine, but in particular he told me that he had spoken of me to Lord Doncaster; and that His Majesty's Government was in favor of my possession of the Guild House though His Lordship saw no need to intervene in any way at this time. "Your cousin appears to have matters well in hand," so he said to Jack.

After the luncheon I returned to the Guild Hall to check on the progress being made by the cleaners, and as I approached the front door I was hailed by a voice behind me. I turned to see an old woman standing in the doorway across the avenue. I crossed the street and tipped my hat—for I confess, cherie, that I have bought a hat, so as to look the part of guild master. I seem to feel my father looking over my shoulder every moment that I wear it; it is not a calming feeling. I believe I shall leave it here in the hall, for it is certain I shan't need it in Bois-de-Bas.

"You are from the Confrerie?" she asked me with the creaking accent of one who has dwelt in Mont-Havre from the earliest days. "The Confrerie has returned to Mont-Havre?"

"Oui, madame," I said. "I am originally from Yorke, but Armorica is now my home; and by guild law I am the Guild Master."

"I saw you yesterday and thought you must be, n'est-ce pas? There is a thing I have for you."

She invited me into her front room, and I waited there for a quarter of an hour or so listening to her soft muttering from another room, until she returned with a small oblong object wrapped in a cloth. She handed it to me, and said, "I have been waiting twenty years to return this to one of the Confrerie. It was brought to me two days after that worthless journeyman ran off to Toulouse, and I have kept it safe all of this time."

I was seized with excitement, as you can well imagine. As I began to remove the wrapping, she continued, "Master Grenadin was killed by le grand-blaireau, oui? They told me this was found some distance from his body."

It was, of course, a book: the leather cover stained and dirty, and some of the pages torn; it must have been ripped from the pocket of the unfortunate master's coat by le blaireau's claws and sent flying. A quick glance verified that it was, indeed, a grimoire.

I thanked her gravely—I wanted to pick her up, buss her on both cheeks, and twirl her around, but as she was quite frail I chose to restrain myself until I return to Bois-de-Bas and can do the thing properly.

And then—O, and then! I returned to the Guild Hall, where one of M. Armagnac's men, a young fellow named Jean-Marcel, was waiting for me.

"We have found something, M. Tuppenny." He led me up the stairs to the first apartment on the right. "We moved the bed frame as we were cleaning, and, well, it is as you see." There on the floor, where it had been hidden by the ruin of the bedding, was a small trap door, perhaps a foot square. "We have not opened it."

I made haste to do so; and there, in a small cubby between the joists, I found a ring, a small sum of money in coins, and two thin books. I removed it all, pocketed the ring, shared the coins between Jean-Marcel and the other two workmen, and made my way to M. Bardot's, chortling softly as I went.

I have now had time to make a brief inspection of the two books, and to my joy they are not grimoires. The chaotic nature of your typical grimoire is impossible to mistake, but these, though written in Master Grenadin's hand, are no compendium of the notes, successes, and failures of a line of master formers. On the first page of the first of the pair is the title Sur la Thaumaturgie; and what follows is the master's attempt to set out a complete discussion of the length and breadth of his reflections on the nature and theory of forming. This cannot have been popular with the Guild in Toulouse—indeed, I begin to wonder whether Grenadin was sent to Armorica "under a cloud", as we would say in Cumbria, as a kind of exile. Or perhaps he came here of his choosing, to have a quiet place away from the Guild where he could work on his book in safety. Either would account for the journeyman's quick return to Toulouse on his death.

I have only begun to read them, cherie, for Grenadin's hand is difficult and my Provençese is barely adequate to the task. But I am more delighted that I can well say!

Please embrace my lovely Anne-Marie for me. I expect I shall be here another week, getting the Guild Hall into some kind of order, and then I shall return to Bois-de-Bas.

Your loving husband,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- The Guild Hall (14 May 35 AF)

First Letter

Ma chere Amelie,

And here I am in Mont-Havre. It seems so odd to see it again—it was so much my world when I first came to Armorica, and yet for such a brief time, only a few months. It is much larger than Bois-de-Bas yet smaller than I remembered, and much smaller than Yorke—although, of course, I might find Yorke similarly diminished were I ever to return there.

As you know, I had hoped to stay with M. Suprenant and his family. I find that Mme. Suprenant was recently delivered of a son, and so the house is even more full of life than usual. M. Suprenant offered to let me sleep under the counter if I could find nothing better, but it was truly the only space he had. And so I am staying with M. Bardot, the head clerk at Suprenant et fils. It shall do very well, for Mme. Bardot is a very good cook; and tomorrow I shall dine with the Suprenants after the close of business. You may write to me at Suprenant et fils at need.

I might also have stayed with M. Fournier, indeed he encouraged me to do so. But though he is a delightful man to converse with, he is unmarried and lives in a single room over his bookshop, and I find, cherie, that I have grown to appreciate the comforts of a real home!

I have not yet seen Jack, but I have arranged to meet him for the noon meal on Friday. We shall dine at a local inn, Les Fleurs, which was recommended to me by M. Suprenant.

It must seem odd to you that I make such a noise about this—that I do not simply go to stay with Jack and dine at his table whenever I am not with other friends. And yet more of my father's lessons have stuck with me than I would have guessed. I am the grandmaster of the Former's Guild here in Armorica, and as such I must maintain my independence from both the Armorican government, such as it is, and the Cumbria governor-general. The latter would be particularly fatal, as I am from Cumbria and I represent the Cumbrian branch of the Guild rather than the Provençese; and as Cousin Jack lives in the same house as Lord Doncaster and his table is in fact Lord Doncaster's table, I must keep my distance. I must meet him as my cousin, not as Lord Doncaster's aide; and I must do so in public.

Nor have I gone to speak to any members of le Grand Parliament, as I originally intended to do, nor to M le maire of Mont-Havre, for M. Suprenant has advised me not to.

"The hall of La Confrerie des Thaumaturges has been locked up tight since the last member departed these twenty years ago," he told me. "I have made inquiries, and found that he left no one responsible for the care and upkeep of the structure. As a journeyman, I suppose he had no authority to do so. And the city has not touched it, for by Guild law it is sacrosanct. Le Marechal would have cared nothing for that, I suppose, but his forces ignored it entirely; perhaps it was beneath their notice. And so it has just been mouldering.

"If you will take my advice you will ask no one's permission for entry, but simply engage a locksmith. It is your guild's property, n'est-ce-pas? Oui, oui, it is the property of the Provençese branch of the guild, c'est vrai, but you tell me that that does not matter by guild law. Begin as you mean to go on! And I may say that any true Armorican would rather see it in Armorican hands than in those of les Provençese cochons. Non, mon ami, you must act as one with authority!"

It did not surprise me to discover that M. Suprenant has arranged for such a locksmith to meet me at the Guild Hall tomorrow morning. Truly he is a good friend!

Perhaps I will find nothing but dust and discarded clothing, or such weathering that all within is in an advanced state of decay. But perhaps the structure may be saved, and we shall have a place to stay in Mont-Havre when we choose; and you know my other hope. We shall see.

Bless little Anne-Marie for me, and yourself as well!

Your loving husband,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- A Leg to Stand On (5 May 35 AF)

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Dear Journal,

Jack left us this morning after an extended stay; word came that His Lordship needs him in Mont-Havre, as well he might. It was the longest Jack and I have been able to spend together since we were boys, and we spent it as you might expect: up until all hours talking, drinking just a little too much, and making the rounds of the village—for everyone here wanted to meet the hero who lost a leg fighting Le Maréchal.

Truly he was welcomed, and more than welcomed. He spent several days in my workshop while I worked, talking with my covey of older men and swapping outrageous stories with Jacques-le-Souris until they were all howling. The old men spoke of him to their families, which led to a stream of folks coming by to catch a glimpse of him, and to be introduced; and that led to invitations, and after a few days had passed I seldom caught sight of him between breakfast and supper. He had won their heart with his sacrifice, and they won his with their welcome.

When he first came, Jack was inclined to be sensitive about the remains of his leg, and morose with it when he was off his guard—for Jack has always understood his duty to his friends and family, to be of good cheer and keep up appearances. But I could see it in his fatigue at the end of the day, and the look in his eyes when he turned to go. I invited him to join us at the hot springs on the first Sunday afternoon he was with us, and he declined. "No one would care to see this," he said, with an overly casual wave downwards. I fear he spent the afternoon brooding.

But the folk of Bois-de-Bas are no strangers to serious injury—they hardly could be, given the rigors of building a new home in the forests of Armorica. They take it in stride, if I may use so inappropriate an expression; and an injury honorably received is a source of respect rather than revulsion, just as an injury foolishly received will be a source of humor (in others) for the rest of the person's life.

"You could cut a wide swathe her in Bois-de-Bas," I told him. "You're a handsome fellow, and charming with it, and the leg is neither here nor there."

"That last bit is true of a certain," he said. "I can't find it anywhere."

"But don't, please," I said. "Cut a swathe, I mean. It's a small town, and I live here."

He nodded, but he seemed more cheerful after that. And though he spent time with many families with daughters, I didn't hear his name linked with any in particular.

We had Marc and Elise to dinner, and visited them at their farm; and I saw Elise and my Amelie whispering to each other in the corner and giving Jack the occasional look. I didn't inquire as to what they were discussing. It was obvious enough, and besides, there are things man is not meant to know.

Yesterday I was told by several men of the village that I must be sure to bring him to the hot springs after our divine services, and to my surprise he came willingly. He seemed to know most of the men sitting near us by name, and when he told the crowd that he must leave in the morning they drank round after round to his health. Jack being Jack, he showed no effects from it on the walk home.

"I don't suppose you'd care to pursue a career as an innkeeper?" I asked him as he gathered his things this morning. "We have no proper inn here in Bois-de-Bas, and you have the temperament for it. Also the capacity."

He chuckled. "Wouldn't that set the cat among pigeons back in Yorke! It's bad enough that you've flown off as you have, but at least your father can tell himself you're extended the reach of the Cumbrian Former's Guild. But for me to descend to being a tavern-keeper! My parents would never live it down." His eyes got a faraway look. "Attractive idea, though. But no, that's a sergeant's retirement, not a lieutenant's, and anyway I think His Nibs has grander plans for me back in Mont-Havre."

And now he's off to whatever work "His Nibs" has for him. When he had passed out of sight, Amelie turned to me. "He must return soon, n'est-ce-pas? Perhaps you should visit him in Mont-Havre."

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Letters from Armorica- Stress and Strain (23 April 35 AF)

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Dear Journal,

I write quickly, for it is late—but I must not lose this thought. Cousin Jack is here, in fact he is snoring in the next room as I write, and during the evening he told us of his time with the Army. At one moment he spoke of trying to sleep on a troop transport during a storm, the void winds buffeting it and—and here is the point, Dear Journal—every sinew of the vessel straining and creaking. Even in calm, he said, there were always many small creaks and groans, but in a storm!

This past summer I often had cause to reflect on the hardened portions of the sloops we captured during the war: the keel and a framework around the gunwhales. Why so little, when you could harden more and give the ship a good measure of armor? But now I see, and it has all to do with the formed elements that keep the sloop in the air, and why the elements that move the sloop around the harbor can only move the sloop ever so slowly.

The hardened elements are like my hardened plates: as the ship works in the wind, groaning and creaking, they keep it whole—and collect the effort required to do so. And the lifting elements, for so I shall call them, make use of the effort so collected. The two are in a kind of balance! The movement elements are puny for fear that they will use too much effort—for fear that they will degrade the hardened structure, and eventually cause the sloop to fall from the sky.

If one were to harden the entire hull and support members of the sloop, what effect would that have? I had assumed it was a matter of cost only: that formers couldn't be spared for that. Hardening a wagon or sky-chair is no great difficulty, but a sloop is much, much larger. But perhaps such a hull would be too stable, would work too little, would collect too little too little effort (for which I need a better name).

How does one achieve this balance? There is nothing about this in my father's grimoire; but perhaps my father comes from a long line of incurious and unskilled formers. (It would explain his focus on guild politics.) Do the other masters in Yorke know more? What of the shipwrights? Someone must have recorded how it is to be done, even if not why it is to be done that way. But my grimoire records none of that: it is simply, "do this, and that will follow". And rarely, "My master tried that, and now he is gone."

But someone knows, or at least knew how to balance these things: how to assemble them together so that they will work safely. I will find out; and I will record my findings so that Luc and my future apprentices need not repeat my mistakes. And just perhaps I will find out how to safely do more than my father has ever dreamed of!

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